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CONTROL YOUR ROLL - Increasing/Decreasing Ball Speed

By Bryan O’Keefe
Bowling is about the ability to repeat shots and the readiness to adjust to changing conditions.
Today, we have bowling balls that absorb oil and we compete on an invisible playing field that changes with virtually every shot that goes down the lane. Bowlers need to constantly adjust to those changes. Too often bowlers immediately feel the need to adjust by moving on the approach, left-to-right across the lane. Remember, the lane is 60 feet long but only 39 inches wide. There’s much more room to make front-to-back than left-to-right adjustments. Sometimes the best adjustment is stay on the same line and simply increase or decrease the ball speed to better read the changes in the lane.
If you need the ball to slow down faster, throw it slower. If you need the ball to not slow down quite as quickly, throw it faster. Of course, increasing and decreasing ball speed is not a new concept in bowling, but the manner in which people attempt to adjust their ball speed is the subject of considerable debate.
One misconception is that you can adjust your ball speed by using your upper body. It’s a mistake to think that you can keep your lower body the same and simply use more muscle to throw the ball harder, or slow the ball down by grabbing it more and forcing yourself to throw the ball slower. In truth, you may actually accomplish faster or slower ball speed, but your accuracy and consistency is going to be very difficult to repeat.
The best way to increase or decrease ball speed is by using your legs, not your upper body. Using your lower body to adjust your tempo to the line will allow you to maintain a fluid, natural swing and will greatly increase your ability to repeat shots.
To increase ball speed, start your approach a step behind your normal starting point, which will give you more room so that you can walk faster. By moving faster to the line, your stride will be slightly longer. That extra pace to the line will get your lower body working while your upper body stays relaxed and ball speed will still increase.
Conversely, if you want to decrease your ball speed, move up a foot in your approach. Whether you’re using a four-step or five-step approach, your steps will be shorter and your pace will be slower.
Naturally, a byproduct of quicker/slower tempo to the line is that your timing must adjust with the tempo, and that’s where the biggest misconception about adjusting ball speed comes in. Prevailing wisdom suggests that in order to throw the ball harder you start the ball higher (lengthening your swing), and to slow it down you start the ball lower in your stance (shortening your swing).
By adjusting your tempo to the line, the opposite is actually true. Start with the ball about six inches lower if you want to increase ball speed, and start with the ball slightly higher if you want to decrease ball speed. Confused?
Here’s how it works: By speeding up your tempo to the line, you’ve actually got less time to get the ball from your stance, through your swing and to the release point. Let’s say your normal swing takes four seconds from stance to release point. There’s a natural tempo, so your feet are instinctively going to keep track of that to keep you in your timing. Now, if you cut your swing to 3.5 seconds, your feet are going to move faster to stay in sync.
It’s all about the distance your swing travels. If you take a shorter swing, your feet automatically have to go faster in order to stay in time. In essence, your feet have to move faster to make up for the lost distance in your swing. If your swing is longer, your feet have to move slower to maintain proper timing.
So, to increase ball speed, move back one foot on the approach and adjust the ball position six inches lower in your stance. To decrease ball speed, start one foot forward on the approach and position the ball six inches higher in your stance.
To a certain extent, the distance of your swing dictates your foot speed. Adjusting the length of the swing shorter or longer than normal will allow you to increase or decrease ball speed. That can come in handy because often times you’re on the right part of the lane. Instead of moving left or right, adjust your ball speed to adapt to the changing lane conditions.
— Bryan O’Keefe is Assistant Coach and Facility Manager at the International Training and Research Center in Arlington, Texas.
Permission granted by USBC/Luby Publishing